by Alex Cosper
Take a virtual tour of Sacramento at SacTV.com
see also American Radio History
see also KZAP, KROY, KSFM, KWOD, KRXQ, KNDE, K108, index
How Howard came to town
On Feb. 5, 2004, KXOA (93.7 FM) Program Director Byron Kennedy announced the station had a new identity as "Howard 93.7." The long-running call letters KXOA finally left the market without protest or celebration. The new call letters became KHWD. Howard Stern had already been carried in the morning slot since the summer of 2001. Stern said on his program it was "a genius move...a brilliant move." These comments were in sharp contrast with Stern's earlier staunch demands that stations do not use his name in promoting themselves. As the new Howard 93.7 was getting off the ground, Janet Jackson had flashed her nearly-bare breast at the Super Bowl earlier that week on live international television and a controversy over decency broke out in which watchdog organizations began to target Stern's show as indecent. Clear Channel even dropped Howard in a few markets, but Howard survived in Sacramento.
Stern predicted his show would soon be over, yet it kept on going...for awhile. The show was carried from 3am-10am weekdays and was followed by classic alternative rock hits, mainly from the nineties, but the station also played current alternative rock. Stern shocked the industry again in October 2004 when he announced that he would be leaving terrestrial radio at the end of his Viacom contract to do his show on Sirius Satellite Radio starting in January 2006, where he wouldn't be pressured by the FCC about his show content. In November 2005 Infinity (which went back to the name CBS Radio shortly afterward), flipped the station to the "Jack" format and changed call letters to KQJK. In early 2006 CBS Radio radio filed a multi-million dollar lawsuit against Stern for breach of contract, but the parties settled later in the year. In 2009 KQJK was acquired by Clear Channel.
Air America flip flops
The 1240 AM position had historically been music and then briefly "All Sports" up until its most legendary General Manager (from the sixties and seventies) Dwight Case purchased the station in 1994 and changed the call letters from KSAC to KSQR ("Super Q"). Richard Irwin, the Operations Manager then at KSAC says, "I turned off the 1240 AM transmitter and it was off for a month before they turned it back on." It came back as a Spanish station that sold a year later to Spanish group Silverado Broadcasting, who kept the KSQR call letters but changed the name to "La Bonita." In September 1997 Sacramentan Amador Bustos expanded his rising Z-Spanish Network by announcing the purchase of KSQR, which later went to Moon Broadcasting.
In May 2004 the station took on the name "Talk City" and began airing the national feed of "Air America," the first radio network to position itself as "liberal talk radio." Air America featuring morning show The Morning Sedition followed by host Al Franken kicked off its network about a month earlier on March 31 in New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago. KSQR became one of the first eleven stations in the country to air the new network. Michael Kramer, who had worked at KROY-FM in the eighties, became Operations Manager for Talk City 1240. The call letters then changed back to KSAC.
But despite initial ratings spikes and continued loyalty, Air America found a new home in November 2005 on KCTC (1320), which flipped from nostalgia to progressive talk. Charlie Weiss, who was a mainstay at KZAP for years, became head of programming for the new talk station. However, another change was made by Entercom in February 2007 when they dumped Air America for an all sports station via ESPN programming. Meanwhile, KSAC remained a liberal-leaning talk station until it flipped to religious programming in early 2008 with new call letters KRJY.
KQED expands to Sacramento
America's most popular public radio station, KQED/San Francisco, the sister to the Bay Area public television station, piped its programming into Sacramento beginning in May 2003. At that time KQED acquired religious station KEBR (89.3) from Family Stations then changed the call letters to KQEI and switched the programming to a simulcast of the legendary Bay Area station. KQED can be heard on three frequencies in the Bay (88.5 San Francisco, 88.3 Santa Rosa, 88.1 Martinez). Even though it is not rated by Arbitron, it is the most listened to station in the Bay. KQED was founded in 1968 and became an all news station in 1987. When combining all the signals and areas the station covers, the station estimates on its website in 2005 that it reaches 745,000 listeners each week. KQED also expanded its online audience, as it began streaming in 2002.
Tragedy at The End becomes industry wake-up call to rethink crazy radio contests
One of the saddest episodes in American radio history occurred in Sacramento on Friday, January 12, 2007 when a contestant on 107.9 The End (KDND) died shortly after an on-air promotion at the station. The contest was called "Hold your wee for a WII" in which contestants challenged to win the popular video game unit, Nintendo WII. The object was to see who could drink the most water without urinating. The second place winner was Jennifer Strange, who was found dead in her home later that day and initial reports were that the cause of death was water intoxication, a result of drinking too much water.
The following Monday, Entercom Market Manager John Geary announced that the "Morning Rave" show had been terminated and that ten people connected with the promotion, including Program Director Steven Weed, were let go. As the story began to unfold on national news, the Sacramento Sheriff Department learned from a recording of the event that while the contest was in progress the jocks aired a warning from a listener named "Eva" that "those people that are drinking all that water can get sick and possibly die from water intoxication." One of the jocks replied, "Yeah, they (the contestants) signed releases, so we're not responsible." Then another jock said, "And if they get to the point where they have to throw up, then they're gonna throw up and they're out of the contest before they die, so that's good, right?"
The recording also revealed that one of the jocks even cited an example of a Chico student who had died of water intoxication a few years back. On Jan. 25, 2007, attorneys for the family of the victim filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the station. The incident created a wave of discussion around the country from radio listeners to radio personnel that the radio industry needed to back off from crazy radio stunts that may endanger the community, in its pursuit to boost ratings. The original purpose of radio, as defined by the FCC in 1934, was to serve the community, because it's actually the public who owns the airwaves.
The New Era: Radio must face barrage of challenges from new media
In the 2000s the radio industry and the music industry both face uphill challenges from various new media. One can clearly see, by studying the history of media, patterns that have shaped the current media landscape. AM radio dominated people's lives until the fifties when television became the dominant medium. Then the new technology of the transistor made radio an appealing portable companion from the fifties on. AM radio then faced major competition when FM technology was improved in the late seventies. The mad rush for FM receivers transformed FM into being the desired band for music fans by the early eighties. The computer revolution that followed has led us to where we are today. We are at an empowering vantage point with an unbelievable amount of choices to consume information and entertainment besides radio: cable, the internet, satellite radio and now something called "podcasting."
The combination of corporate consolidation and new competition from new media has changed the music and radio industries from what they were prior to the mid-nineties. In some cases radio owners have gained huge advantages because of conditions of the Telecom Act. Examples include cornering a market, increasing radio property value and increasing spot rates. Disadvantages to industry consolidation have been less localization and a decline in the "human element" of broadcasting as computer automation systems have taken over to ensure "no dead air" or jocks accidentally playing an unscheduled song. The role of the air personality at several music stations has been further diminished to liner-cards, time and temperature, artist and title, and occasional tidbits thrown in.
The radio stations that survive the contest that lies ahead in the new millennium will likely be the ones that merge with - instead of compete with new technology. Those that take their local programming to an international audience will likely do better than those that try to offer national programming for just a local audience.
There is no question Sacramento radio was most exciting prior to the 21st century, which is indicated by Arbitron ratings that fell to lower levels in the 2000s. Chris Collins, who topped Sacramento ratings at FM 102 in the 80s and 90s, says in 2010: "You see, the Zoo primarily made it to #1 because we were funny, worked hard and always timely YET we were always one of three presets in most 12-54 persons car listening to the radio. The new jackasses that have ruined radio wouldn't understand this concept if Jesus walked through the clouds and hit them over the head with it!"
Asked where radio is today, one of Sacramento radio's all time favorite radio personalities, Kevin "Boom Boom" Anderson says in 2010: "It's already right where it belongs - in the toilet. Ownership consolidation, increased spot loads to pay off debt, homogenization - radio ate itself, and it got what it deserved. The end."
Where have all the call letters gone?
Here's a look at where classic Sacramento call letters ended up in the 2000s:
KAER - St. George, UT
KCRA - nowhere in radio, but still used by TV station Channel 3 in Sacramento
KEWT - nowhere in radio
KGMS - Tucson, AZ
KGNR - John Day, OR
KNDE - College Station, TX
KPOP - Sapulpa, OK
KQPT - Colusa, CA
KRAK - Hesperia, CA
KROI - Seabrook, TX (covering Houston)
KROY - Palacios, TX (on the Gulf Coast)
KSMJ - Shafter, CA (the station is in Bakersfield)
KWOD - Salem, OR (parked call letters by Entercom)
KXOA - nowhere in radio
KZAP - Paradise, CA (covering Chico)
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